Clayton Memorial Unitarian Universalist in Newberry, South Carolina, might be a small church, but it’s ready to take on the unjust mass deportation policies of the Trump administration. “With a congregation of about 15 people,” The Post and Courier reports, the church will be welcoming immigrants facing deportation beginning in January. “The facility stands to become the first known ‘sanctuary church’ in the state.”
Church leaders said an adjacent hall is being converted into a residence where immigrants under threat by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) can live. Under ICE policy, churches are generally considered “off-limits” to immigration enforcement, though unshackled agents have tested the limits of this policy. Still, desperate families facing final deportation orders have been willing to take the chance.
This past summer, Church World Service estimated that as many as 44 immigrants may be in sanctuary across the U.S., but with some preferring to remain under the radar for safety reasons, the number could be much higher. Others also taking chances in the sanctuary movement have been a group of Kansas Mennonites, who pledged to shelter immigrants facing deportation, even if it means the possibility of church leaders facing persecution and arrest.
When Clayton Memorial Unitarian Universalist does begin giving sanctuary next year, Michelle Robinson said that the church “will make every effort” to help immigrants “navigate the legal system, to attempt to have the deportation order overturned.” She also called “on people of faith and goodwill to challenge our political leadership, to create an immigration policy that is not fear-based, but which seeks to treat others as we would want to be treated ourselves.”
While the church is also concerned about safety—“Newberry police have agreed to add patrols to the area,” The Post and Courier noted—the congregation is standing firm. “We meet injustice with courage,” said Sam Stone, chair of the church’s board. “That’s all we’re trying to do here.”
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